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Auditors' report revealing

It’s a tale as old as time — or at least as old as government. If an agency nears the end of the fiscal year with money left unspent in its budget. Agency managers fear that those who determine the budget might decide the agency doesn’t need as much the next time around, so they rush to spend it.

Auditors in the Secretary of State’s Office say this happens too often.

A new audit report found, for instance, that the Oregon Department of Corrections bought 33 Hydro Flask insulated water bottles in the final days of the last budget cycle. Price: $1,400 — more than $42 a pop.

Now, it may be that the department really needed those water bottles. And they do come with a lifetime warranty. We don’t know, and the report didn’t determine, whether that specific expense was wasteful. The point is, it makes no sense to spend money willy-nilly at the end of the budget cycle just to avoid a smaller budget in the future.

What’s annoying about this is that it’s not new. Government agencies have been operating this way for decades. Government leaders have long advocated for a different approach, but little has changed.

If managers were rewarded for saving money, government would run more efficiently. In fact, the Legislature created a special fund 30 years ago to reward agencies that improved productivity. The amount spent from this fund in three decades? Zero.

The auditors have illuminated a problem. It’s the Legislature’s job to fix it.